WESTMINSTER - A public meeting got heated Wednesday night as state transportation officials discussed a deal that would allow a private company to take over the operation of U.S. 36.
People packed into the City Park Recreation Center in Westminster to hear the Colorado Department of Transportation's plan to lease the highway to Australian-based Plenary Roads.
Under the terms of the deal, Plenary Roads will partially finance the second phase of the U.S. 36 project and in return will collect tolls on the corridor until the expiration of the contract. While the highway will not become fully tolled, it will include an HOV/toll lane in each direction when completed.
Several people in the meeting began yelling in anger and booed when CDOT officials said the contract with Plenary will not be publicly disclosed. Some attendees left early.
"I don't want my tax money and corporate tax dollars going back to Australia for our roads, our infrastructure that we've sold out," said one woman during public comment.
"I would never as a business owner sign any kind of contract unless I could read word for word everything," attendee Travis Smith said. "This should be available to the public."
CDOT has released an "executive summary" of the contract with Plenary, but said Wednesday the contract will not become public until it's finalized.
Representative Tracy Kraft-Tharp (D-Arvada) said she is also concerned about the public and lawmakers only being able to see a summary of CDOT's contract with Plenary Roads.
She said she asked CDOT to let just one Senator and one House member review the full contract, but has gotten no response.
Kraft-Tharp said she does agree that the deal is necessary to fund construction on U.S. 36.
"We don't have money to pay for it," Kraft-Tharp said. "We barely have money to maintain transportation and roads in the state. In order to do projects like this, we have to find innovative ways of financing them. The public-private projects are one of the ways to do that."
The department's spokesperson Amy Ford said the deal with Plenary Roads is set to go through "by the end of the month."
CDOT signed U.S. 36 contract in June. CDOT officials admitted they should have had a public meeting before signing the contract.
On Thursday, CDOT will hold a public meeting at the Louisville Recreation Center at 6:30 p.m. In addition, CDOT will meet with state legislators on Thursday to go over details of the plan.
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